After MDC-T leader Morgan Tsvangirai’s death last Wednesday, the fight for the control of the party pitting his three deputies escalated with Nelson Chamisa claiming to have inherited the throne.
However, Elias Mudzuri and Thokozani Khupe insist they are the legitimate leaders of the country’s largest opposition party.
Our chief reporter Everson Mushava (EM) yesterday spoke to MDC-T secretary-general Douglas Mwonzora, who tried to shed light on the escalating fights.
Below are excerpts from the interview.
EM: Can you try to explain what is happening in the MDC-T, especially after the death of Tsvangirai and the period leading to his death?
DM: I think the MDC as a party is going through a very difficult time as a result of the loss of the iconic figure president Morgan Tsvangirai.
He is a real enigma and his shoes will be difficult to fill. The MDC is still in shock and this shock is in two parts: the shock caused by the deteriorating health of our leader and the shock caused by his death. What we noticed is that there has been some incessant power struggles between the top leadership, the two vice-presidents in particular.
There was a dispute on who was the acting president. The world has looked with amusement regarding the dispute while he was still in hospital and after his death.
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We noticed there was a rush by some leaders to convene meetings of the organs of the party even before the death of the president. But when the president finally succumbed, there arose another problem on whether we should proceed with the national council meeting or suspend all party business.
I did the initial discussion with our leaders; we agreed we were calling off any party business to allow for a dignified send-off of our leader.
But meetings were convened purporting to be meetings of the national council which is the highest decision-making body and decisions were made.
It is important to note that when the president died, we called off the national council meeting and I personally did that because as the secretary-general, I am responsible for convening that.
But some leaders decided to disobey that and during the time of the national council meeting, a question arose as to whether we should appoint someone as acting president.
I had two fundamental problems to that as the administrator of the party. The first one was that other interested people were not there, not because of choice, they were involved in funeral arrangements of the former prime minister.
It was only fair that everybody be there when such an important question is resolved.
Secondly, the issue of whether the constitution allowed it. I knew the constitution did not allow the election of a leader by the national council, a leader who is elected outside congress; it can’t be done by the national council.
Unfortunately for me, when we wanted to raise those issues, I was not allowed to speak and as a result I left.
EM: Who blocked you from speaking?
DM: The meeting was chaired by the deputy national chairman, Morgen Komichi, so I was unable to speak, I was not allowed to speak and I left.
And now we have the resolution of the national council that has plunged the party into more turmoil. But what I then exhorted all the leaders to do was to shelve that issue so that we concentrate on the funeral.
There have been clashes in the cockpit between the three vice-presidents and that does not augur well for our party and for the project that we want to build. So the party has been in a state that is very unhealthy and what we want to avoid is a split.
EM: You have mentioned that others moved with greater speed and now that the decision has been made, as the secretary-general what does the constitution say and how do you intend to move forward?
DM: This is a democratic party; it has a constitution and a tradition. It is my intention to preserve the constitutionalism in the party. We must go back to the constitution and it says once the president is late, we must have an extraordinary congress within one year for the election of the leader.
Some have interpreted that an acting president in an election can act beyond the election date, that is wrong because when the MDC chooses its election candidate, it actually holds a congress and that primary election is called a congress.
At congress, while electing the president, you are electing two people: the head of the party and the presidential candidate for the next election.
It is a democratic process, and that process of congress involves voting by over 5 000 people. What happened in the national council meeting was simply a declaration of one person as the acting president, but the national council did not elect the presidential candidate.
So the question remains on who the presidential candidate is and therefore we must hold an extraordinary congress where people would come.
The congress would be made up of up to 5 000 people, the national executive has less than 170 people, in fact, it has 155 people. That means, if we are to say the national council elects the president and the presidential candidate, we are disenfranchising over 4 800 members of the MDC who want to vote.
The congress of the MDC is made up of all the ward chairpersons, the 1 958 of them, made up of selected members of the district executives, all the wings, youth, women and the main, all the wings of the provincial executive, all the mayors, members of the national council, national executive and standing committee.
EM: Someone has appointed himself as the leader, even if you are to go for congress, do you think aspiring candidates will have equal chances of winning, considering someone is already controlling structures before the congress?
DM: I don’t think the situation is beyond repair. I am sure the people involved, the three vice-presidents must know that the party is greater than an individual.
We may have our own personal ambitions, goals, preferences, but we must subordinate them to the greater good of the party and the wishes of the membership of the party.
Therefore, my proposition to the leadership is that the extraordinary congress will be held with haste.
There has been an argument that there are no resources to carry out the congress. It is true, we appeal to the party membership and civil society to fund the process.
EM: Do you think people will come forward considering the chaos in the party?
DM: Yes, the situation does not inspire confidence in anyone, when people invest in a political party, they are investing in the future.
Where there is bickering, bending of the rules, dribbling each other, and so on, the people who are serious-minded will not invest. I am going to appeal to my leaders so that they look at the best interests of the party and respect the legacy of president Tsvangirai. Whoever wants to replace him should uphold his legacy of mass consultation.
EM: What will happen if others decide to stick to the decision of the national council and reject the idea of a congress?
DM: The holding of the national congress is not dependent on what one organ or individual thinks. The national congress of the MDC can be called even by lower organs. Whoever doesn’t want to be part of the national congress is free not to be. But it is better to do that so that we have a leadership that is by consensus. I am yet to see what the disadvantage of a congress is to be, I see more disadvantages in going to an election with a disputed candidate. We must stick to values of democracy, equality, constitutionalism and fairness.
EM: Some people say the MDC is technically split, what can you say to that?
DM: No, there is a dispute in the party, but it is not split. It is split when people hold parallel programmes. We actually do the same things every time, but we need to go back to the very founding values of MDC that distinguish us from Zanu PF, the ability to listen to the people on the ground. People should have a voice on who replaces their icon; they should not be denied that chance.
EM: The name MDC-T, the “T” represents Tsvangirai, and now it surely has to have a new leader; will there be a change of name?
DM: I don’t think so, but this is up to congress. But if it was my decision, I was going to leave it like that. Philosophically, heroes won’t die.
EM: What do you think was the motive behind the stampeded national council meeting?
DM: I don’t know, but I want the nation to know that I tried to stop it, I tried to reason with the leaders involved, I tried to reason even the night before, but it didn’t work.
But for me, it was going to be in bad taste and look immoral. Our president had just died less than 12 hours before and for us to carry the business we wanted to do, it was immoral.
EM: They said they were trying to avoid a leadership vacuum, what do you have to say?
DM: There was no leadership vacuum in the MDC in the sense that we have the whole standing committee there, we have the secretary general, who will be a key person in the administration of a thing like this, and we would consult over key decisions throughout the process.
I had facilitated the discussion of the three vice-presidents on important issues. There was an administration, there was no leadership crisis.
EM: You once proposed to take the three VPs to South Africa, now Tsvangirai is gone, how are you going to solve the leadership crisis for now?
DM: There were claims of appointment by two VPs, Mudzuri and Chamisa, and for me it was a question of fact. Instead of holding any national council meeting, it was an issue of fact.
The proposal was to have them go to SA and consult the president. I was not aware of the extent of the deterioration. But both of them had letters from Luke Tamborinyoka (Tsvangirai’s spokesperson).
There was one common phrase in the letters that they would act until president Tsvangirai came back. President Tsvangirai did not say they would act until he comes back alive.
President Tsvangirai has come back, so the period of acting has ended because he has ended, granted he has come back in a different state.
But he has come back and the mandate ceases automatically, and we now have to go to the constitution. It talks of the of the deputy president elected by congress and she is there.
So pending the holding of the national congress, Madam Khupe would ordinarily act, first on the basis of the constitution and, secondly, on the basis of common sense, she is the most senior of the vice-presidents after service for 12 years as compared to the two years served by the others.
We don’t have a presidential candidate and we need a free and fair process to select one.
EM: If the congress is to be held, are you going to throw the hat in the ring to represent the party in the next elections.
DM: It depends on the wishes of the people. I am willing to serve under any leader, but I also have the right to contest.
It has not, however, crossed my mind that I should contest to lead the party as president.
Right now, I am preoccupied with my position as SG and mourning president Tsvangirai.
I had a special relationship with him and cannot think of succeeding him at his funeral.